Sayan Village, Ubud, Bali
Ben and the Monitor Lizard.
Snakes, iguanas, komodo dragons and turtles became the Balinese welcoming committee for us on our way to Ubud, Bali.
Ben, my traveling companion, heard about a reptile park along the way from South Bali to the central Balinese hill town of Ubud. It was a must for us to stop at the park. We asked our driver, Budi, to take us there on the way to Kaymanis Villas outside of Ubud. I was so glad we did.
PETA members back home in the United States would certainly approve of the reptilians roaming free within wide enclosures. Ben asked our Indonesian guide what was living in the dark water in one of the park’s murky lagoons. Very excited, the guide jaunted over in his brown work boots and stepped to the water edge and fished out tail first the largest black & green lizard I have seen in someone’s arms.
It was a Monitor lizard!
He quickly passed it to Ben. The evolutionary critter was over four feet long and it became Ben’s favorite story to tell.
Kayumanis Private Villas entrance.
As we drove the peaceful drive from city to village and then from village to village the roads became smaller and with less traffic; the elevation was climbing and the trees were more lush and dense.
About 40 minutes later, Budi turned off on a road I would have never found (this is why in some countries it is just best to hire a driver) and we were in the village of Sayan. We pulled into the Kayumanis Ubud Private Villas, just past a couple of dirt roads and several family compounds protected by Balinese dogs.
Boardwalks lead to the Private Villas.
We were welcomed to our new hidden home in the Balinese rainforest by the villa staff on an oversized front lanai., Diana and brought into the lanai for check in. We were checked in by Diana and then were met by Agustini, who explained that from here on out we were to be Ibu (Mrs.) and Bapak (Mr.). We told her our Balinese names — Putu (1st born) Michelle and Made (2nd born) Ben.
Agustini is also a Putu and proud of her heritage; she loved that we knew our Balinese names. She explained that we would now be Ibu Putu and Bapak Made. Ever so slowly our knowledge of the Balinese language was growing.
We were assigned a team of butlers to assist us with any needs during our stay, INyoman (3rd born) Subagia took us down a cobblestone path and within seconds we found ourselves at the grand entrance to our lodging, otherwise known as the Villa Sandat.
Private Villa Sandat.
There are nine Kayumanis private villas but the resort is expanding. Each villa has a special theme that the Kayumanis guest services selects especially and individually for each traveler based on a questionnaire filled out before arrival.
Subagia opened the colorful round wooden double doors and climbed a step to enter our villa, He asked us to remove our shoes so that he could ensure the energy and the spirits were in perfect harmony before proceeding into our lush hideaway.
Villa Sandat’s private pool.
A big clay pot in the outdoor foyer housed water that I am now convinced was not just regular water. It must have had some special blessed healing powers in it. Bright white frangipani and rich magenta bougainvillea petals were floating on top. Subagia took a ladle and three times poured water over Ben’s naked feet. Next it was my turn. Three times he toweled them off, before giving us house slippers; I was cleansed of evil spirits to scope out our villa.
The Kayumanis guest services picked the right villa for me, based on my accurate and detailed questionaire. The villa had all of the amenities of a 5-Star resort while incorporating ornate local artwork and furnishings and embracing all of the comforts of modern technology while maintaining its Balinese tradition,.
Stay fresh in tropical style.
A fragrant tuberose floral arrangement centered on a chocolate wooden coffee table drew me to an outdoor living area. A gourmet kitchen, dining table, and canopied daybed would afford solitude to read or take a nap. Our very own private pool looked so refreshing that it would soon offer relief from the 86 degree humid tropical weather.
On the other side of the revitalizing waters of the pool was a bedroom area; it was like a whole other dwelling on the property, but onsistent with the furnishings in the outdoor living area. The king size bed was majestic and complete with a silky opaque canopy, crisp white linens, and large television.
This wasn’t enough — the private villa encased a large bathroom with glass windows with the impression that you were outside even though you weren’t. To become complete with nature an outdoor rock shower mingled al fresco with the sounds of the rainforest. High walls of thick vegetation provided privacy.
Splendor in the jungle.
Kayumanis means “cinnamon” in Balinese and its unique and intimate approach of each villa is to give the guests privacy, seclusion, and relaxation. Many of the Kayumanis staff are from the surrounding villages set in the middle of central Bali’s rainforest. The diminutive resort overlooks the Luah and Ayung river valleys with extraordinary views of the glowing green vegetation and rice fields.
Are the Balinese born with some sort of hospitality gene?
Kayumanis’ green grounds.
The Kayumanis has the highest echelon of service. The genuine warmth is truly unmatched. I called our butler about any business center internet access and instead he brought me a laptop, set it up on the coffee table, and connected the wireless. Impressive! The butlers and guest service staff are so willing to accommodate every request as if it is no big deal. It is just what they do!
We wanted to explore Ubud so Ben asked our butler to arrange a motor bike rental; 30 minutes and $5 later Ben convinced me to jump on the motorbike to experience the surroundings. We caused quite a stir in the village as we waved and shouted our few Balinese greetings; entire families came out to see the crazy, tattooed couple traversing their normally quiet back roads.
This dappled path leads
to the Monkey Forest.
Since we hadn’t seen the actual town of Ubud, we traveled the fifteen minutes into town to get some dinner and find out what the famous Ubud “MonkeyForest” is about. No travel book can prepare you for the monkey forest. They must call it that because it appeared that there are more monkeys than trees. We arrived too late to buy bananas from the stand at the entrance of the forest. It was getting dark and we still decided to enter. Monkeys were everywhere; on every tree, bush, and walkway! Ben found a banana peel on the ground. Instantly, we were surrounded by monkeys and one alpha moved in to inspect what Ben had to offer. Ben threw him the banana peel. Realizing it was empty, he let out a piercing angry shrieking sound! It was time for me to evacuate the monkey forest before I was mistaken for a banana.
We walked the cracked and broken sidewalk away from the monkey forest and we passed many art galleries, temples, and traditional Balinese dance venues. Ubud is the art district of Bali, with the feel of Santa Fe, New Mexico sans Georgia O’Keefe paintings.
Ubud is noted for its artists
and its colorful fresh food.
A restaurant named Three Monkeys offered romantic candlelit tables which drew us in for a drink. The patio outside opened up to an amazing view of backyard Balinese rice paddies. The sultry blue hues of dusk cast mirrored rice reflections on the water. We drank cocktails constructed of sugar and lemongrass. A few too many, I now must admit!
Waking up the next day in our lovely air conditioned room wasn’t a problem. The 5:45 a.m. call time to join Chef Mustika was another story; 5:45 a.m. anywhere in the world is tough, even on vacation. Chef Mustika is the Executive Chef at the Kayumanis. We had signed on with him for a local morning market tour, followed by a thing or two about Balinese and Indonesian cooking.
Ubud’s lively village market.
The market was an amazing and foreign experience. We were the only westerners in the market and not many vendors spoke English. Fruits, vegetables and rice (tons of rice) were plentiful in the market. We tried a traditional breakfast snack of sticky rice and banana steamed in a banana leaf.
We took our cooking ingredients back to the Kayumanis where Chef Mustika came to our room for the cooking lessons. He set up “shop” in our outdoor living room and gourmet kitchen and mixed chicken breast, glass noodles, garlic, ginger, turmeric, candle nuts on several other ingredients. We dined on the first course of Soto Ayam, which is an Indonesian soup.
Indo cooking class with Master Chef
Mustika, after a market visit.
Kare Ikan Java was our main course. With mahi mahi as the protein, we made a paste of coconut milk, kefir lime leaf, lemon grass, turmeric, garlic, and chili to smother the delicate fish. I still find myself craving for both of these dishes after I returned home.
We learned to make Kelepon as our traditional Balinese dessert. Simple to make (other than the Pandan, which both flavors and colors the Kelepon) it is constructed with rice flour, palm sugar, salt, water, and of course the Pandan. Pandan comes from the leaf of a plant that is muddled down into a sticky syrup that is naturally bright green. You roll the rice flour mixture into balls and then put a dollop of the palm sugar in the middle. Once it is cooked in hot water, and rolled in coconut, the palm sugar melts in your mouth when you bite in.
Full from our self-made meal, but under the guidance of Chef Mustika, it was time to rest by the pool and let our superactive gluttony digest!
Villagers live in tranquility.
We made friends with one of the locals, Yudi. He invited us to his family compound which was about five minutes from the Kayumanis. His family was preparing for the Balinese holiday of Saraswati day which thanks the Gods for knowledge and education. Yudi’s mother was fixing offerings to the Hindu Gods and she invited us to see how they were made.
She had laid out hundreds of offerings on tables. The hand-woven palm frond baskets had round disks of dried rice, flowers, and a small sweet desert to offer to the gods. We then rode our motor bike on a small dirt trail to visit Yudi’s Uncle Ketut, who is a local Ubudian artist.. On one side of the dirt path was a deep ravine and on the other side was a small river. I closed my eyes and held tightly to Ben! We parked under coconut trees and climbed up stone stairs to meet Uncle Ketut. Ketut Karta showed us his art, his studio, and his home. I looked out the second story window of Ketut’s manse across villas and large fields of rice that were the backdrops of the paintings he creates. Being a painter as well, I was impressed by Ketut’s hand made beaten bamboo brushes.
Time to relax at Kayumanis.
Back at our private villa we decided to stay in for the night. Our decision lasted throughout the entire next day. We swam in our private pool, read books, wrote and napped in the luxury of our very own and personal Sandat Villa.
Our final morning at the Kayumanis, Subagia brought us walking sticks and took us on a trek up, down, and across the Ayung River and valley. After two hours of sweating, Subugia safely returned us back for the final hours at the Kayumanis Private Villa. The staff knew that our driver was not arriving until the afternoon. Instead of asking us check out and mope around wherever on the resort grounds, they switched us to another open villa.
The person who checked into the Sandat Villa apparently answered the questionnaire the same as me. This was great because the two bedroom “day” villa was also beautiful, just bigger, with an incredible view. The stairs led down to a private pool at the edge of the river valley. Do we have to leave?
Showered, changed and packed we began the slow walk back up the same cobblestone path of which we had arrived. Back at the lanai the entire Kayumanis staff was lined up to say farewell, like a receiving line at an Italian wedding.
The pleasant Kayumanis staff.
Chef Mustika, Agustini, Yudi, Subagia, Diana, and all of our other new friendships made over the last few days bided us a fond goodbye. We went down the line, looked each other in the eyes, made the traditional Balinese bow, and said many “Terimah Kasih’s” (thank yous in Indonesian!).
To contact the Kayumanis Ubud or to view other private villas that the Kayumanis group has to offer please click their website at right.
Sayan, Ubud 80571
— Feature by Michelle Schoser, Jetsetters Magazine San Diego Correspondent; photos by Michelle and courtesy of Kayumansi Private Villas.